October has been so far very busy for Burning Eye. We’ve had new releases, National Poetry Day and announced a partnership with Poetry Rivals 2015. This month is also Black History Month, and as poetry lovers, we’d like to celebrate the rich roots and identities of black culture.
Storytelling is an important part of black history. The rhythm and rhyme of songs and chants of enslaved Africans who carried them across the Atlantic has influenced over a century’s worth of music, notably Blues, Jazz, Hip Hop and R&B. Before the rise of industrial culture and American civil rights, poets like Phillis Wheatley catalysed the antislavery movement and the sermon Jupiter Hammon was considered one of the earliest narrators of African American history. The performative tradition of storytelling resonated into 21st century poetry from writers and performers like Harryette Mullen, Maya Angelou, Benjamin Zephaniah, Gill Scott Heron and more. In recent news, Lemn Sissay became the Chancellor of Manchester University, Selina Nwulu was made London Young Laureate and Claudia Rankine won the Forward Poetry Award and was shortlisted for the T.S Eliot Prize. All this despite the 2007 Free Verse report, which revealed that less than 1% of poetry published by major presses in the UK was written by black or Asian poets. The BBC’s coverage of National Poetry Day in some ways reflected this and revived debates about the diversity under the skin of British literature. So, being never knowingly mainstream and in celebration of Black History Month, here are some of Burning Eye’s old and current favourites:
John Agard: ‘Listen to Mr Oxford don’
(There is a fitting comment underneath the video that said ‘This is a trainwreck to type out in Word, everything is said to be a mistake.’)
John Agard is an Afro-Guyanese poet and playwrite who has released numerous collections, the first in 1974. He now lives in lives in Britain and was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2012.
Jackie Kay: ‘Brendon Gallacher.’
Jackie Kay is a Scottish poet and playwrite. Her first collection The Adoption Papers 1991 deals directly with being adopted and growing up into a white family. The collection won the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award and a commendation by Forward Poetry Prize in 1992. She has since releases scores of poetry and prose and become one of the most well read poets in the UK.
Dean Atta: ‘I Am Nobody’s Nigger’
Dean Atta was named one of the most influential LGBTQ artists in 2012 and has been commissioned by numerous and prestigious landmarks like the National Portrait Gallery, The Tate and Keats House Museum. In 2013, he released his début collection I Am Nobody’s Nigger.
Vanessa Kisuule: ‘One Minute.’
Vanessa Kisuule is Bristol based performance poet. She is a multiple slam champion, winning SLAMbassadors, Roundhouse and Hammer & Tongue Slams. Her first collection Joyriding the Storm was released with Burning Eye Books and you can pick up a copy here.
Raymond Antrobus: ‘The First Time I Wore Hearing Aids.’
Raymond Antrobus is a poet, photographer and educator from Hackney, London. Amongst his numerous slam titles, he is a co-curator of the poetry night Chill Pill and Keats House Poets. He is Hackney’s first educator in spoken word, getting his MA from Goldsmith’s University and has released a hugely popular chapbook – The Shapes and Disfigurements of Raymond Antrobus. He is currently working on his first full collection The Island That’s Hard To Find In English.
Salena Godden: ‘Eulogy.’ – a poem for her grandmother.
Salena Godden is a Jamaican-British poet who grew up in Hastings, Kent. She has released one collection Fishing In The Aftermath Poems 1994-2014 through Burning Eye Books but has a catalogue of self-published pamphlets and zines. She hosts and produces The Book Club Boutique and is a regular feature on BBC Radio 4 programmes including Saturday Live and The Verb. She recently featured on BBC 4’s Rhythm, Rock and Revolution which prompted this blog post.
Selina Nwulu: ‘Home is a hostile lover’
Selina is a Yorkshire-born poet now based in London as is now the Young Laureate. She is also environmental and human rights campaigner. She has been writing poetry since she was a child, and has worked with groups such as Blackfeminists, Tipping Point and Poetry Can f*ck Off! Burning Eye are really honoured to have released her first pamphlet The Secrets I Let Slip, available here.
So these are a few of our favourites. But these are just some of the amazing poets of colour living and working in the UK. We strongly encourage that you go out and find more. (Check out the BHM website’s Poet’s Corner and this article about the Black Romantics) British literature has been influenced by all manner of people, and contributed to a rich and diverse culture that should be widely acknowledged and celebrated.